October 21, 2014

Review: Happy Diving | Big World

San Francisco sludge-pop upstarts Happy Diving first breeched our radar at the onset of the year via a digital/cassette EP, but the East Bay act is poised to decisively put its stamp on 2014 with an ear-pleasing, skull-pounding full-length debut titled Big World. Due Nov. 4, the record bears all of the hallmarks of a contemporary classic indie release: recorded quickly (two days); with a hot shot up-and-coming producer (Jack Shirley of Deafheaven, Joyce Manor and Whirr fame); backed by a rising area imprint (Father/Daughter Records). Oh, it also rocks.

As with the likely incessant humming inside producer/The Cars guy Ric Ocasek's head, Happy Diving brings the fuzz. Indeed, Big World channels Ocasek-produced touchstones like Weezer's thrilling blue album and Nada Surf's High/Low -- and, to a lesser extent perhaps, Bad Brains' Rock For Light -- into aggressive punk rock forms. With each pummeling chorus, grit and dirt shudders loose from Happy Diving's sustained, high-output sound like the dessicated refuse from sonic flypaper faced with a strong breeze. And so thick rhythm guitars establish a formidable aural wall along the length of Big World. It's perhaps the most pronounced element substantiating the Weezer comparison (although the band's occasional third guitarist is clearly a big fan), although Happy Diving's melodic sense is fairly keen as well. Even so, the constant clipping and in-the-red tones of songs including "Mikey's Rules" and "Weird Dream," all the searing feedback and sustain, evoke something ultimately darker and more dejected than Rivers Cuomo's adolescent observations. Big World highlight "Space Ooze" follows this model, economizing its down-stroked chords to create a compact punk bruiser with thrilling single-note bends, a quick verse, a sore-and-subtle harmonic "oohing" bridge and a slapdash guitar solo. The tune's breakneck pace implies a sense of danger, leading the song somewhere substantially more troubled. In this context, and especially when taking into account the album art, the album title is less optimistic than it is anxious.

Fronter and guitarist Matt Berry's resigned singing does much to establish the disaffected mood of Big World. Mr. Berry's smooth yet sour pipes evoke the characteristic confusions and frustrations of 20-somethings, specifically that state of feeling one way while being pressured to present another. And so Berry's singing injects another dimension to the sweeter melodies of the more pop-oriented "Sad Planet," and imbues much of Big World with greater emotional depth than a superficial read of its songs might otherwise note. Still, song titles like "Always Noon," "Whatever" and the aforementioned quirky, sci-fi referencing duo "Sad Planet" and "Space Ooze," evidence that Happy Diving don't take all of this rock 'n' roll business too, too seriously. So as the listener can imagine the year-old foursome running through its repertoire in a dimly-lit basement -- pissed off and disenchanted with the world, perhaps -- she or he can still also imagine Berry and co. still goofing off and having fun.

Big World will be released by Father/Daughter Nov. 4. Said release is being celebrated with a release party tomorrow night in Oakland, Calif. at 1234 Records; the show includes Fish Breath, LVL Up and Big Ups. The album is available as a digital download as well as a limited edition vinyl 12" pressed to oxblood, oxblood and baby blue splatter, or classic black media, and it appears there are only 100 pieces of each, so be sure to pre-order one while they last via the band's Bandcamp right here. The entirely un-eff-withable Art Is Hard label will release a cassette version of Big World in the UK Nov. 3; there are only 100 of those available. Stream three tracks from the record via the embeds below. -- Edward Charlton

Happy Diving: Bandcamp | Facebook

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